Over the years you’ve heard all sorts of things about vegan protein – it seems like everyone is a specialist. And after getting the same comments over and over again, it’s understandable that you might begin to wonder:
What if the vegan lifestyle actually IS lacking in protein, and what if it’s the vegans who got it all wrong?
Fear not, my plant-eating friend, for we are here to help you! In this article we’ll tackle some of the most widespread questions about vegan proteins, and expose them for what they really are: myths.
After this article all those doubts in your head will vanish, and you’ll be confident about your plant-based diet again. Keep reading.
There are two types of proteins: incomplete protein, and complete protein. It’s very common to hear people say that vegan protein is incomplete – and the reason they say that is because that’s what they’ve been taught in school, gyms and through advertisements.
But just because something is written in an old and biased textbook, it does not mean it’s true! Especially if it’s based on a study from 1914 done with rats. This “incomplete protein” myth is a very harmful one because it frequently prevents people from following a plant based diet based on the fear that a vegan diet is incomplete and not healthy.
What do they mean when they say complete protein, though?
It all has to do with amino acids – the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids that form proteins, and out of these 20, your body can’t produce 9 of them. Therefore, those 9 amino acids that your body can’t produce are called ‘essential amino acids’, and you have to get them from food. In order for something to be considered a “complete source of protein,” it needs to contain all 9 essential amino acids.
And this is where the myth crumbles like a castle of sand (or a castle of quinoa, to make it yummy and healthy).
This whole “incomplete protein” story and also the concept of “protein combining” were debunked by the scientific community decades ago. Just to give you an idea, that myth was promoted in 1971 by Frances Moore Lappé who was NOT a nutritionist, physiologist, or medical doctor; she was a sociologist writing a book on how to end world hunger – and she stated that veganism would be a great solution, but we would need to combine proteins to make them complete.
After being corrected by actual experts, she launched a new edition of her book in 1981 RETRACTING her statement that plant protein was incomplete and thus needed to be combined with other sources. So the very same person who SPREAD the myth of incomplete protein and protein combining actually ADMITTED SHE WAS WRONG over 35 years ago – but most people still insist that vegan protein is incomplete.
Here’s the thing: if you ONLY ate potatoes, you would have some trouble getting amino acids. In the same way that if you ONLY ate beef, you would lack many vitamins. No single food can supply all your needs for macro nutrients and vitamins, that’s why we eat a variety of them! Meat-eaters need to do that, vegans need to do that too.
So to make that clear, YES it is true that not every single plant food has all the 9 essential amino acids – which is fine! You don’t need to be ingesting all of them in every single bite of food. As long as you eat a variety of plant foods on a healthy diet, you will be getting all of the protein and essential amino acids that you need. Here are some ideas of vegan foods with lots of protein: quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seed, chia, soy, black beans, oats, peanut butter, and many more. We even wrote an article on high-protein vegan foods!
For more information (and some entertainment), watch this video:
Another common complaint of people who say they want to go vegan but always come up with an excuse not to, is that high-protein vegan food is too expensive compared to animal protein.
The only reason people think that is because they’re looking at expensive vegan meat alternatives (mock-meat) such as vegan chicken and other specialty items. However, that’s exactly what they are – specialty items! Vegan mock meat are NOT necessary or even important on a plant based diet. In fact, most of them are just junk food in disguise – just read the labels! That’s not what you should be eating on a daily basis if you’re striving for a healthy diet.
But when we think about ACTUAL vegan foods that are rich in protein, such as quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seeds, chia seeds, beans, etc, they are not expensive at all compared to meat.
In fact, Diane Vukovic from plenteousveg.com compared the price per gram of protein among many vegan foods and animal foods. The results speak for themselves:
Steak: 4.5 cents
Ground Beef: 4 cents
Milk: 2.7 cents
Ham: 2.6 cents
Eggs: 2.5 cents
Chicken: 1.5 cents
Rolled Oats: 0.7 cents
Dry Beans: 1.1 cent
Dry Chickpeas: 1.1 cents
Dry Lentils: 1.6 cents
Brown Rice: 1.9 cents
Tofu: 6.2 cents
Soy Milk: 6 cents
Peanut Butter: 2.4 cents
Chia: 13 cents
So yeah, Chia seeds are more expensive than Steak – but that’s not a fair comparison. In real life you’ll be eating just a spoon of chia a day (15g), and getting most of your proteins from rice, beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanut butter, tofu, oats, etc. Grains and legumes are some of the cheapest foods in the entire world. For instance, rice and beans is what people on poor countries live on since they can’t afford anything else.
And another thing that’s worth mentioning is that meat-eaters ALSO eat (or should be eating) grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc. Vegans just eat more of what everyone should be eating – and no animal products.
This myth is heavily perpetuated by the fitness industry. People, especially gym goers, believe that you need to consume lots of whey protein powder before and after workouts in order to stay fit – and they say that vegan protein powders are inferior to whey in quality, taste and value.
Do they even know what is whey?
Whey is the yellow liquid that remains once milk has been curdled and strained – it’s a byproduct of the cheese industry. The dairy industry used to throw that waste away until a guy named Frank Thomas had the brilliant idea of drying that thing and selling it as Whey Protein. Whey is nothing more than a highly processed, low-grade discard of cheese production. Yes, it has a high amount of proteins. But at what price?
Vegan protein powders, on the other hand, are made from isolated protein from plants like rice, peas, beans, soy, cranberry, artichoke, amaranth, etc. Most vegan protein powders won’t wreak havoc on your digestive system, and in fact they’re very easy to digest since they’re just made from plants. I say “most of them” because there are some crappy products in this market as well.
Some people try a vegan protein powder and think it tastes like dirt, so they just give up and go back to whey. What they fail to understand is that there are GOOD vegan protein powders and BAD ones. And I say that in every aspect: taste, texture, ingredients, etc.
If you don’t wanna risk buying many crappy products before finding a good one, I suggest you check out our guide on the TOP 5 Vegan Protein Powders in the USA.
This myth stems from the fact that most people think that vegan protein is mock meat. On their first day of trying a vegan diet, they go to the grocery store and look for vegan meat, vegan chicken, vegan cheese and can’t find it. Then they hear that those products can only be found in vegan shops. Of course their reaction is:
– “How am I supposed to be vegan if I can’t find anything in here?”
Well, let’s start with the basics:
Mock meat is NOT what you should be eating on a vegan diet – at least not on a daily basis. Leave those meat alternatives as a treat for those days when you just feel like eating junk food. It’s alright, we all do it sometimes.
But your day-to-day should be filled with protein from real food: Brown rice, buckwheat, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, oats, wheat, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, almonds, walnuts, etc. Here’s a helpful list of high-protein vegan foods.
As you can see, you can find plant based protein sources at every single grocery store in the world. Furthermore, as we showed in the previous myth, it’s actually easier and cheaper to find plant based protein than animal protein.
Phew, there are so many myths in regards to vegan protein out there… the ones listed above are only the tip of the iceberg lettuce (hah!).
We’ll try to keep this page updated with more myth debunking, but at least now you know that:
- A healthy vegan diet is rich in protein;
- Vegan protein is cheap;
- Vegan protein powders are fine;
- It’s easy to find vegan protein anywhere.
Hope this article was helpful to you, and make sure to check our other articles to learn more about protein on a vegan diet.
PS: I get lots of emails from people who understand that they need to eat proteins from real food – but they just don’t know WHAT to cook. That’s ok, I’ve been there when I first started out being a vegan.
One tip I can give you is this:
And I don’t say that only because we happen to be promoting one (link below), in fact it’s the other way around: so many people have asked me “what to cook”, that I went after a vegan cookbook focused on a muscle building diet and made a deal to promote it here on my website (the price is currently 40% off).
So if you want more ideas of vegan meals you can cook at home that will bring more proteins (and yumminess) to your routine, click on the banner below and learn more about the book “Muscles on Plants.”